By Donna Gail Broussard
We typically draw our cover artists from outside our own inner circle, but Rowen is a member of our team at Ageless Woman. As our go-to photographer and videographer, we know her well. Well enough to know that her art and her sense of self are both growing by leaps and bounds lately, and we're not the only ones noticing.
Not only is she the staff photographer at Ageless Woman, but just recently, one of Rowen's photographs was chosen as the cover for the Botetourt Historical Society's 2018 calendar. She's been asked to illustrate a children's book. She's been doing graphic design work for Peaks of Otter Winery and a host of other professional clients.
"I'm closer to being the person - and the artist - I was always supposed to be," Rowen says. "I've been on a journey, and I kind of feel like I've finally reached the status of a journeyman. I'm not an apprentice anymore, but I've not yet reach the status of a master. I just keep moving forward, and each experience sharpens my vision as an artist."
No matter the attention her art is receiving, she is the most down to earth, humble being you will ever meet. She's "just Rowen" and to know her is to know that nothing will ever change that.
Rowen is just never what you might expect. She can be whimsical, magical, and unexpectedly melancholy at times. "I have a touch of the Irish," she quips, lapsing into her Irish brogue. She can be temperamental... "and a bit sour at times," she adds. The one thing that you can always expect is that she tells it like it is and you never know what's going to come out of her mouth.
It's all a part of her charm.
Only Rowen would let us publish a feature this unflinchingly honest. But then there is no feature that could do Rowen justice if it did not present the truth. Rowen is the most truthful person you will ever meet. (And sometimes you may wish she wasn't). Those of us who know her well find ourselves often saying: "Oh, that's just Rowen."
Her work - her drawings, her paintings, her photography especially - is all just as unflinchingly honest and real. It never apologizes for itself. If it's sentimental, she takes sentimental to the hilt. If it's raw, you won't find anything more raw. Rowen never flinches from the truth she sees in front of her.
Did we mention her charm. Hmmmm. If there is one thing Rowen is, it's charming. The list is too long to enumerate but we'll give you a few examples.
Charming like wearing red Converses to her cousin's funeral in honor of him - in memory of all the times he wore his ratty Converses to family reunions.
Charming like taking in stray animals (and stray people) on her small farm. Charming like never turning away a friend in need and going to foolhardy lengths to help the people she loves. Charming like this laugh she has that makes you think of the sound Tinkerbell makes with her wand. Charming like being quick to cry because she can never let anbody cry alone.
We could go on all day. Suffice it to say, to know Rowen is to love her. She scatters kindness, shares compassion and creates beauty everywhere she goes.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if you look at the body of work Rowen has amassed, many of her subjects would not normally be considered beautiful. But redrawn and captured in her mind's eye, Rowen creates beauty where none existed before.
She kinda does the same thing with life.
Take a look at some of her pieces and see if you don't agree with us.
FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHY, DESIGN
ILLUSTRATIONS AND PAINTINGS
FROM ARTIST ROWEN MILLER
Seeing the World
Through My Eyes
By Rowen Miller
I suppose all art is a reflection of how the artist sees the world. If there is any "goal" associated with art - beyond the simple act of creation - mine is to help people see the particular world I have seen, not only through my eyes, but through my heart.
I want people to see and feel the essence of my subjects, to be able to look at things in their raw, truthful state and still see the magic there.
When I go out to shoot, I try typically to first look at things the same way that other people do, shoot a little bit from that orientation. Then I go in and shoot from an entirely different perspective that most people don't view the world in - like shoot down at things, shoot up at things, shoot from different angles. Bascially I disrupt the normal perspective.
Even more than that, sometimes I look at a subject and I focus on a specific detail: like instead of shooting a portrait of a person, i have a tendency to shoot hands. Hands tell amazing stories and give you a glimpse into the life of that individual.
Sometimes when I look at objects in nature, I purposefully seek out the less appealing and make it appealing. Recently, I hiked out to a sunflower field and shot the dead dried up heads. Nobody goes up there to shoot dead sunflowers, but I found them absolutely stunning in their stark, naked, forlorn delicacy.
I have always been completely drawn to old, abandoned buildings - houses, barns, factories, bank buildings, schools, old towns that highways passed by. They have stories that haven't been told or have been told and long forgotten. They were usually built by hand, by people that also worked the land and I think about the hands that built them, the families that lived and worked there.
These places sit abandoned and rejected but with the lens of my camera, I try to infuse life back into them and have people see their essential nature - what they were, what they still are.
My favorite subjects have always been the sad, tossed away, abandoned and rejected. If I can get people to see the allure in my subjects and settings, perhaps they can begin to see the unseen beauty in their fellow human beings - those that don't fit the norm or don't align with the modern standards of beauty.
Some of my best friends are not what the world would consider attractive, but when I look in their eyes, their souls shine out and I see beauty that is absolutely undeniable. I am privileged to know and to love them and I want the world to see them as I do.
Art, at its best, evokes emotion. I want to transport, to engage, to make people feel. When you reach people at the level art can reach people, it has a tendency to open the doors and the windows of the heart, helping people to relate to the world around them in a different way.
People tell me all the time: "I love that piece." They can't tell me why they love that piece, but it is reaching them on a level they they cannot access or understand.
Art not only connects people to the world around them but to pieces of the world inside them they have lost touch with. That is the place I want to take people.
Rowen worries that perhaps her work can sometimes be seen as dark, when that is not what she is seeing at all. Her subjects have often endured the ravages of time, hardship and abandonment, and yet there is a beauty that endures.
"A beauty that endures and sometimes hides," she adds. "Sometimes you have to search for it and dig it out."
Rowen was four when her family left Mississippi and came to Virginia. She grew up in Botetourt County. After graduating from Lord Botetourt, she began her undergraduate studies at Mississippi State. She interrupted her studies and married young, however, settling on a farm back in Botetourt County, where she immersed herself in children, animals and country living. Her art was put on the back burner, but the companionship of her daughters, her friends and her beloved animals sustained her through a marriage that turned very dark.
When the marriage ended, Rowen was a single mother left alone with the responsibilities of the farm. "After my husband left, I went back to school and finished my degree while being a single mom, trying to maintain the farm and working." She survived, she says, "only by the grace of God and through sheer stubbornness."
She persevered and finally graduated with a degree in art studies from Virginia Western.
"Even though this has been a really hard, stressful time in my life, there was a light shining through the darkness. It was only shining one step in front of me, showing me the next step, like a lantern to my feet. I learned so much about who I am and what I'm made of. It actually, in retrospect, has been the most liberating time of my life. I am reclaiming who I am and looking forward to who I am going to become. Instead of being afraid, I glory in taking risks now. During that transformative journey, life became an adventure that I long to live. I learned to lean on my relationship with God and those that loved me - whether two-legged or four-legged."
For Rowen, there have been times when the world could be a scary place, a dark place, but her memories always tend to gravitate to what was good. She still does that with her art and with her life. Though she may stare down what is dark and scary and evil, thought she faces death and loss, though she intimately explores issues like abandonment and rejection, Rowen always tries to come away with what remains - even when all seems lost.
As a photographer she is always thinking about how to capture light to produce the right image, the right feeling, to make it express what she is attempting to convey with the piece. Simultaneously, she is undergoing a similar process in her personal and spiritual life.
"There has been a great deal of pain in my life," Rowen says, "but I feel like this is my time to fly, my time to chase the light."
For a full retrospective on Rowen's art, don't miss the video slideshow at the bottom of the page.
A young Rowen at art school and Rowen today being her usual goofy self.
The photograph above was taken by Rowen from the walls of the Library of Congress, featuring one of her favorite and most poignant quotes from Hippocrates who was mourning the fact that we never really live long enough to master our crafts - no matter what craft we choose.
Rowen's photo entitled "Discontent" and the Botetourt Historical Society's 2018 calendar with her photo on the cover.
With Special Thanks
for the Music
"Beneath the Vermont Stars"
Written & Recorded by
T. Henry Osborne
Recorded & Mixed by